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Longtime Illinois Valley Community College tennis coach, assistant football coach and instructor and former basketball standout Bob Mueller died outside of his home in Peru before noon Tuesday. He was 73.
Mueller was a member of the 1959 La Salle-Peru-Oglesby Junior College basketball team that qualified for the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., and went on to study and play basketball at NCAA Division I Drake University. He also played on the 1956 L-P team that went to the Sweet Sixteen.
The tall coach and teacher also was a solid tennis player, recounting to the NewsTribune during one of his final years of coaching that he relied on his height to deliver “the big serve.”
He was known in part for building and maintaining a respected IVCC tennis program, and near the time of his retirement told the NewsTribune that some good tactics in English also relate to tennis. He said a key to writing is to put “proper words in proper places,” and in tennis it was important to deliver the proper shots in proper places.
“He was a fixture here. He was a tremendously popular teacher here in English,” said Fran Brolley, IVCC public relations director.
Ed Krolak, a fellow English teacher in the division of humanities and fine arts, said Mueller had an office across the hall and seemed to have more students just drop in to visit than anyone else in that part of the building. “He was really popular with the students,” Krolak said. Mueller taught full-time at L-P-O/IVCC 1964-1997. In a story written on behalf of IVCC in 1990, Brolley reported that about 250 students would “crowd Mueller’s classes each year to learn how to compose meaningful essays and to read and discuss classical literature,” and that Mueller demanded students to have a professional approach and “to prepare for that day’s activities just as I have to prepare for that day’s activities.”
In addition to coaching tennis, Mueller served as an assistant coach for Vince McMahon on the 1979 football team that was inducted into the IVCC/L-P-O Hall of Fame. That team went undefeated and won the Midwest Bowl.
While IVCC graduates remember him as a teacher and coach, many longtime fans remember him for his basketball talent.
Krolak recalled a question he asked Mueller about the time he had to guard Oscar Robertson during his playing days at Drake.
Mueller said indeed he was told to guard the Cincinnati star and he recounted to Krolak, “I held him to his average, 35.”
Bob Walsh, a member of the 1959 L-P-O team that went to nationals, said a now-defunct college rule prevented Mueller from playing in the postseason with L-P-O. Mueller helped the team to a fabulous record, but he had transferred to L-P-O in reverse from Drake and was required to sit out, Walsh recalled.
“We had Bob that year until the tournament started, which was somewhere around now. We had like one loss that year until we got to Hutchinson, Kan., where we wound up going 19-4, but had we had Bob, we would have been a contender to win it all,” Walsh said. “The one thing we lacked was size and losing him at that time of the year, we all had to regroup and play a different ballgame you might say.
“Bob was real talented and at that time, Bob was around 6-5 or 6-6, which was a nice size for our team. He was a real good rebounder and scorer; a great team player as well as a great person, I might add,” Walsh said, adding that Mueller was a good defender and excellent passer, as well as a good outside shooter, which was unusual for big men at the time.
Former L-P and IVCC running back Cam Valle played for head coach Vince McMahon at IVCC when Mueller was defensive coordinator, and then was a fellow assistant coach with Mueller after 1986.
“He was a great coach. He was a motivator. I always felt he could get the most out of kids. He knew how to make them laugh. He knew when to get on them and when to pick them up. He was just a good people person,” Valle said. He said Mueller welcomed him as a peer on the coaching staff.
“He helped me hone my coaching skills,” Valle said.
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